Investment in ecosystems will reap rewards - UNEP

Fri Nov 13, 2009 7:34am EST

* Investment in restoring ecosystems can bring high returns

* Subsidy reform, REDD actions need to be endorsed



By Nina Chestney

LONDON, Nov 13 (Reuters) - Nations that take into account natural resources in their investment strategies will have higher rates of return and stronger economies, a report backed by the United Nations' Environment Programme said on Friday.

With less than one month until a U.N. climate summit in Copenhagen, the report urges policymakers to reform their economic policies to stop the destruction of natural resources such as forests and oceans.

"Repairing the ecosystem by replanting forests, restoring mangroves along coastlines or rebuilding coral reefs are very smart ways of doing adaptation. People going into Copenhagen are not necessarily aware of these things," Pavan Sukhdev, the leader of the study prepared by UNEP's Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity Initiative, told Reuters.

For example, planting and protecting nearly 12,000 hectares of mangroves in Vietnam costs over $1 million but it saves over $7 million in dyke maintenance expenditure.

The report estimates that investment in mangrove and woodland restoration could achieve rates of return up to 40 percent, tropical forest investment up to 50 percent and grassland investment 79 percent.

"We studied the economics of using nature better -- through adaptation and restoration. In each case we found the benefits exceed the cost, typically between 3 and 75 times," Sukhdev said.

Brazil, India and Indonesia emerged as leaders in leveraging natural capital, while Korea has also got good plans, Sukhdev added.

"Governments need to pay attention to this report and start looking at nature in a more holistic way," WWF director Gordon Shepherd said. "With smarter approaches to economics this can change but right now we are paying for their ignorance."



SUBSIDIES

The report also calls for reform to subsidies which harm the environment. The worst subsidies are for fossil fuels, which total between $240 billion and $300 billion a year globally.

Global fishery subsidies, which amount to $34 billion out of a $90 billion market, should also be reformed to prevent the collapse of fisheries around the world.

Measures to combat deforestation, which accounts for almost 20 percent of current greenhouse gas emissions, should also be given priority.

Under a U.N.-market based forestry scheme called Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), rich countries reward developing nations for preserving forests to prevent emissions through the use of an expanded carbon market.

REDD+ expands the idea to protection, restoration and sustainable management of forests.

Several nations want to see REDD incorporated into a new global climate agreement.

"REDD+, as well as ecological restoration, need to be given a bit of a fillet through the Copenhagen process. These are the first two steps on the ladder. When these get going then a lot else will fall in place," Sukhdev said.

(Editing by Sue Thomas)



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